Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Superbolt Theatre’s three talented performers dash off a high-energy semi-farce as a British secret agent and her hapless accomplices trying to recover the legendary lost Piatto Finale, perhaps the world’s ultimate musical composition, written in 1917 and vanishing on the same night. Part spy story, part detective thriller, part farce, the whole thing strives to keep an audience so entertained that they don’t notice the plot holes.
Using a simple backdrop of a sheet and a pair of screens, Superbolt Theatre create a space that seems able to move and relocate in the blink of an eye – or, more usually, by changing the direction an actor walks in. Lacking doors, the energetic trio use their screens to almost farcical effect. It’s a cheerful and enjoyable melodrama, playfully poking fun at itself and at theatre, but always letting the audience in on the joke.
The quick changes are necessary for a show that zips between Moscow, St Petersburg, Spain and the Russian countryside. There’s a serial killer on the lose in a Moscow Opera House, and artistes are dropping like flies – usually in short skits introducing a character simply for the purpose of killing them off. These three performers are confident enough in their material and style that Simon Maeder – invariably the one whose characters get killed – is able to complain about his frequent deaths. The Opera House’s new conductor gets drawn into a British secret agent’s hunt for the legendary lost sheet music for the Piatto Finale, and therefore the hunt to find the serial killer also intent on claiming the music.
The scene is set, then, for a spy-cum-thriller storyline, with train chases across Europe and gloved hands mysteriously waving revolvers around opera house foyers. But from the first moment, Superbolt had refuses to let the tone be as serious as this. The first scene (spoiler) showcases the trio’s comedic and balletic skill, before one of them (yes, Meader) gets shot and his comical death sets the show’s definitive tone. After that, they don’t let up the pace or the gags, and ham it up at every opportunity.
Partly, the pace is high because of the melodramatic style being used, but also perhaps in order to hide or distract from some of the more glaring plot holes that need tidying up. For example, no one ever makes it clear why the Piatto Finale is so important, why anyone would kill for it, nor why the fate of Russia (indeed, the world) is at stake. A restaurant butler has also come into a rather large amount of money and a mansion, from somewhere.
When I say the performers don’t take themselves or the show too seriously, that’s not to be taken as a negative point. On the contrary, they revel in their time on stage and in their range of characters (despite the handful of international stereotypes trotted out); they have fun and so does the audience. It’s an hour or so of carefully managed, unbridled fun. Part of the charm here is that nothing’s quite polished nor perfected, with props being taken up from the audience, for example – but occasionally that practised slapdash approach affects the set and spoils the illusions which rely for their impact on sudden reveals.
With a few tweaks and fine-tuning, this already enjoyable show can really let rip with an enjoyable consistently funny spy/thriller piss-take.